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Captain's Letter no. 2

Captain's Letter no. 2

Crest

January 2006

Dear Friends of SPRI,

Greetings from the South Atlantic where, as you read this article, HMS ENDURANCE will be alongside in Mare Harbour in the Falkland Islands. As I explained in my last letter to Polar Bytes, the Royal Navy's Ice Patrol Vessel, affectionately known as the Red Plum, routinely deploys in late October to operate in the Southern Ocean and Antarctica during the Austral summer.

Penguin

For the majority of December ENDURANCE has spent a busy period operating around the wildlife haven of South Georgia. This majestic and mountainous island rises dramatically from the ocean depths and is a unique environment for numerous populations of seabirds including king penguins, six species of albatross, numerous varieties of petrel, skuas, ducks, gentoo penguins, macaroni penguins; in addition to huge numbers of seals, notably elephant and fur seals.

The South Georgia Government strives hard to carefully manage the environment to protect these species, many of which are of global significance. HMS ENDURANCE contributes to this effort in many ways. This year we have inserted three specialist research teams from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), studying subjects as diverse as geology, lake sedimentology (taking up to 6 metre deep core samples of stratified silts which can then be chronologically analysed to produce a historic record of climate change) and the biology and migration patterns of fur seals.

We continued our important rapport with the BAS during a thoroughly enjoyable, if all too brief stay at their base at King Edward Point (KEP) over Christmas. At the mouth of the cove at Grytviken their modern base is home to nine permanent members of staff and many visitors, ably led by Dr Alison Dean. BAS work in KEP includes the monitoring of the Patagonian Toothfish stock; this highly prized and valuable fish is carefully extracted to maintain a viable population. Alison also acts as the island's magistrate and her colleagues liaise closely with each visiting cruise ship.

Seal

Using sophisticated handheld digital cameras the Lynx helicopter crews have also contributed with an aerial survey of the various petrel breeding sites. This augmented the stunning work achieved by the renowned American wildlife photographer Kevin Schaffer who has been landed on an opportunity basis at many of the sites around the island. In common with our boats teams the aircraft are operated in an environmentally sensitive manner so as to avoid disrupting the wildlife. Thus, while observing the rise and fall of tides, ENDURANCE's teams of surveyors found themselves being chased by elephant and fur seals... not the other way round!

Surveying

The Survey Department has conducted extensive hydrographic work around South Georgia, including inshore surveys with launches in Cumberland Bay East, and ship surveys using the recently fitted Multi Beam system in Cumberland Bays East and West, Royal Bay, Husvik, Stromness and Leith Harbours and a 50 x 2 nautical mile corridor to the south west of the island. The hydrographic highlights were undoubtedly surveying in previously uncharted areas, including a circumnavigation of the unique habitat of Annenkov Island on the west coast and closing to within 300m of various glacier snouts. Once all these projects are processed by the UK Hydrographic Office the data will be incorporated into reliable maritime charts to enhance the safety of the increasing number of visiting vessels.

Helicopter landing

The ship also found time to support the South Georgia Heritage Trust, specifically delivering a container load of construction materials for the renovation of the Manager's villa at the abandoned whaling station in Husvik. The items will be used later in the year by a team of Norwegian artisans to return the building to its former glory enabling its use for the carefully managed access of scientists and visitors to the island.

Endurance

Having completed her South Georgia projects HMS ENDURANCE collected the last of her shore parties (a team of young adventurers from the British School's Expedition Society) on Boxing Day and set course for the Falklands. Over New Year in Mare Harbour she will refuel and restore her fresh provisions and essential spares before departing for Antarctica, crossing the Drake's Passage during the first week of January. Her Antarctic work this year includes extensive survey tasks, support to numerous BAS field work projects, further wildlife photography and filming by the BBC.

So it's been a pretty busy and successful time and we are pleased with our achievements so far. The HMS ENDURANCE Tracking Project contains a great deal of information about our activities and can be visited at www.visitandlearn.co.uk. That's about it for now... we wish you all a very prosperous 2006.

Yours sincerely

Nick

Captain Nick Lambert Royal Navy
Commanding Officer
HMS ENDURANCE